From now until New Year’s Eve, things slow down a bit for Indiana.
After a four-game-in-eight-day stretch that included three games against major conference opponents and two against what are now Top 25 teams in Georgetown and North Carolina, Indiana plays just three games in the next 18 days, starting with today’s 7:30 p.m. game against Coppin State at Assembly Hall.
It’s a significant change in rhythm, and it means the Hoosiers will have to maintain intensity in a period that will include a lot more practices than games.
“It’s just more practice time,” senior guard Jordan Hulls said. “More time for us to go out there and get better at practice. … It’s a little bit different as far as different rest times that kind of thing, but also competing in practice. That kind of stuff. It’s a little bit different because you like to play a lot of games, but again, it’s also time for us to get better in practice.”
One of IU coach Tom Crean’s greatest strengths so far this season has been keeping his team in the moment, forcing them to focus on succeeding in every single possession in every game and not allowing them to let up when they’ve built substantial leads. He demands the same intensity in practice, and now he has to try to maintain it without lulls through more than three weeks.
The goal during that period, IU assistant coach Kenny Johnson said, is making sure the players recognize that every day is critical in the Hoosiers’ progress toward March.
“It’s about figuring out how we can maximize ourself as a team,” assistant coach Kenny Johnson said. “… Each individual day has its own set of goals, just like we talked about having goals for every possession, every day that we have as we go along this journey of this season has a purpose. It’s really about continuing the skill development each and every day. It’s about adding to our portfolio, what we can do offensively and defensively. It’s about allowing guys to feel more comfortable in the multitude of roles that they have and making sure the players can be as versatile as possible moving forward. It’s a different set of circumstances with the space between the games, but it actually gives you an opportunity to take your time and really go back and make sure of the attention to detail.”
And when the Hoosiers actually do have games during this more sparse stretch, they don’t plan on taking it easy during those either.
Truthfully, Indiana probably could win most if not all of its December non-conference games without its best effort. Other than Butler (3-2), which is currently No. 7 in the RPI, none of the Hoosiers other four opponents are in the RPI top 100 at the moment and they have a combined record of 9-20. Coppin State is 1-5 so far.
However, the Hoosiers said, that’s no reason to let their guard down.
“We just don’t want to the play to the level of our competition,” freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell said. “We want to play the best that we can play. We played very well against UNC, of course, but right now, we’re playing Coppin State. We just can’t play down to their level because they don’t have the big name because they can come out there and have a spectacular game.”
And even though the Eagles have struggled and are coming off a 14-16 season, they have some dangerous elements. Guards Patrick Cole (15.3 ppg) and Troy Frankln (12.8 ppg) are both averaging double-digits, and forward Michael Murray is averaging a double-double with 10.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
The Eagles haven’t been stellar on offense all around, shooting just 34.8 percent from the field and 26.8 percent from the beyond the 3-point arc and averaging 68.8 points per game, but they are defensive ball hawks. Opponents average 21.3 turnovers per game against them and the Eagles average 11.2 steals, causing Hulls to compare them to the Virginia Commonwealth team that drove IU ball-handlers mad in last year’s NCAA Tournament third-round game, causing 22 turnovers before the Hoosiers held on to win 63-61.
“It’s a lot of ball-pressure, a lot of deflections,” Hulls said. “We’re gonna have to take care of the ball and make good decisions, make the right pass. … They’re just quick, so I guess VCU would be a good comparison, just because they get up on the ball and pressure you a lot.”